Anti-inflammatory and cancer drugs tested in UK as possible COVID-19 therapy

LONDON (Reuters) – Two drugs used to treat inflammatory diseases and cancer are being tested as potential therapies for patients with COVID-19, the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford announced on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Doctors treat a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on an Intensive Care ward at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, Britain, May 22, 2020. Picture taken May 22, 2020. Steve Parsons/Pool via REUTERS

Severe cases of COVID-19 are believed to be triggered by an over-reaction of the immune system, known as a cytokine storm, and researchers are investigating whether drugs that suppress certain elements of the immune system can play a role in arresting a rapid escalation of symptoms.

Izana Bioscience’s Namilumab, a monoclonal antibody already in late-stage tests to treat rheumatoid arthritis and an inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis, is the first of four candidates in the CATALYST trial.

It targets a cytokine called GM-CSF, which in uncontrolled levels is believed to be a key driver of the excessive and dangerous lung inflammation seen in COVID-19 patients.

The drug is already being tested as a COVID-19 therapy in Italy.

The second drug, Infliximab (CT-P13), developed by Slough-based Celltrion Healthcare UK, is an anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy. It is used to treat eight autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Ben Fisher, trial co-clinical investigator from the University of Birmingham, said: “Emerging evidence is demonstrating a critical role for anti-inflammatory drugs in the cytokine storm associated with severe COVID-19 infection.

“In the CATALYST study we hope to show with a single dose of these kinds of drugs in hospitalised patients that we are able to delay or prevent the rapid deterioration into intensive care and requirement for invasive ventilation in this critical patient group.”

Other autoimmune disease drugs that are being tested for their ability to quell the cytokine storm in trials include Regeneron and Sanofi’s Kevzara, Roche’s Actemra as well as Morphosys and GlaxoSmithKline’s otilimab.

Japan’s Takeda has a strategic equity stake in Izana.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Nick Macfie

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